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Cablegate: Court Acquits Najib's Ex-Advisor in Murder Trial

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PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHKL #0959/01 3051103
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 311103Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1839
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 2672
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0510
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR PRIORITY 0082
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUALA LUMPUR 000959

SIPDIS

FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/31/2028
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KJUS KDEM MY
SUBJECT: COURT ACQUITS NAJIB'S EX-ADVISOR IN MURDER TRIAL

Classified By: Political Counselor Mark D. Clark for reasons 1.4 (b and d).

Summary and Comment
-------------------

1. (SBU) High Court Justice Mohamad Zaki on October 31 acquitted Political Analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, former advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, of the charge of abetting the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu in October 2006, but ordered the continuation of the murder trial for two policemen. Defense lawyers announced they sought to call to the stand two men who have linked DPM Najib to the case: Razak's former private investigator Balasubramaniam, who has disappeared from public, and controversial blogger Raja Petra who is detained under the Internal Security Act. The trial of the two police defendants is set to continue November 10. In immediate commentary, political opposition leaders, including Anwar Ibrahim, did not focus on Razak's guilt or innocence, but called into question the conduct of the proceedings and suggested a cover-up to protect DPM Najib.

2. (C) Comment: Many observers anticipated Razak's acquittal given the prosecution's poor performance, Razak's connections to DPM Najib, and the alleged and widely-perceived political manipulation in the case. The Razak verdict momentarily attracts more attention to the allegations of Najib's linkages to the case; so too would the testimony of either Balasubramaniam or Raja Petra, though it is not clear either man will be able to take the stand. Allegations stemming from the Altantuya case, however, have not prevented Najib from securing all the nominations so far for the UMNO party elections. Absent dramatic and compelling new evidence prejudicial to the DPM, the Altantuya case will not slow down Najib's drive to become Malaysia's next Prime Minister. End Summary and Comment.

Razak Acquitted, Trial for Policemen Continues
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (U) High Court Justice Mohamad Zaki on October 31 acquitted Political Analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, former advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, of charges of abetting the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu in October 2006, but ordered the continuation of the murder trial for two policemen. Embassy FSN Political Assistant attended the judgment hearing. The ruling came roughly two years after Razak's arrest, and followed a lengthy 17-month trial involving the presentation of 84 witnesses. The prosecution had argued that Razak had asked the policemen to murder Altantuya, Razak's former lover who had harassed Razak for money. The judge ruled that the prosecution team failed to prove a prima facie case against Razak, and ordered his release. The judge found a sufficiently strong prosecution case against the two police defendants, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azha Umar, charged with carrying out Altantuya's murder. At the time of the crime, Azilah and Azha were members of the protection detail for DPM Najib.

Defense to Call Controversial Witnesses
---------------------------------------

4. (U) The Justice requested the defense to begin their arguments later on the afternoon of October 31, but the defense requested and was granted a continuance as their witnesses were not available. In the day's most surprising turn, Kamarul Hisham, lead defense counsel for one of the accused police officers, stated he wished to place on the witness chair Razak's private investigator P. Balasubramaniam and Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin. Both witnesses have previously made sworn statements linking DPM Najib to the murdered Altantuya, and in the case of Raja Petra, implicating Najib's wife in the murder. Balasubramaniam, who was an early witness for the prosecution, has not been seen publicly since he issued a sworn statement in July on DPM Najib's links to the Altantuya case, and then retracted the statement the next day, allegedly under duress according to some accounts. Raja Petra is currently detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). (Note: Although the court may order Raja Petra's presence as a witness, Section 18 of the ISA gives the Home Minister discretion to ignore the court order. End note.) The Judge set November 10 for the defense to begin its presentation.

5. (SBU) For the October 31 judgment hearing, a crowd of approximately 200 waited outside the courthouse while some 100 (primarily family members of the defendants and journalists) filled the packed courtroom. Razak's family appeared confident and remained calm throughout the whole hearing and showed no sign of surprise in Razak's acquittal. The verdict also appeared to come as no surprise to the attending crowd. The victim's father, Setev Shaariibuu, attended the judgment and afterward through an interpreter expressed his disappointment to reporters: "I am not satisfied. My daughter (knew) only one Malaysian and that is Razak Baginda. Now my daughter is dead and Baginda is freed. The country (Malaysia) has lost credibility..."

Opposition Suggests Cover-Up
----------------------------

6. (U) In immediate comments, political opposition figures, who have suggested repeatedly that the government had engaged in a cover-up to protect DPM Najib, did not focus on Razak's guilt or innocence, but called into question the conduct of the proceedings. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim noted, "On a personal level, I wish Razak Baginda well, but the issue here resolves around the court procedure and investigations. There is a general and growing perception that the investigation was not done professionally, that there is a clear motive to cover up." Anwar also drew attention to recent Internet revelations of an SMS exchange between Najib and Razak Baginda's former lawyer in which Najib reportedly wrote that Razak "will face a tentative charge but all is not lost."

KEITH

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